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June 14, 2005
Government gridlock

Is it the Washington Monument scenario or would a state government shutdown really mean gridlock on the highways? The Washington Monument scenario is the threat to close popular tourist attractions first whenever there's a threatened cut in federal funding. The theory is that policy makers will be so scared of offending taxpayers that they'll back off from really shutting things down. Now witness what was said by the state transportation commissioner (who also happens to be the Lt. Governor) at a meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee Monday. This is the Star Tribune account:

New drivers wouldn't be able to get a Minnesota license, and 175 major highway construction projects could be suspended. Thousands of employees could be laid off.

Those were some of the warnings Monday from Minnesota's Public Safety and Transportation commissioners about the potential impact of a partial state agency shutdown. Service cuts could occur after June 30, the end of the state's fiscal year, should the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty fail to agree on how to fund government.

Layoffs would likely leave no one to tend the Stillwater lift bridge, which links that city to Wisconsin across the St. Croix River. The lift bridge "would have to be left in the up position" so that the river would be navigable to large boats, said Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau. That would force the more than 12,000 vehicles that use the bridge daily to find another route.

There's no reason to think these things won't happen in the event of a shutdown. And taxpayers should be concerned about the Legislature and governor's ability to get a deal done. Did the DFL Senate Majority Leader leave an opening on Monday's Midday program? Here's an item pulled by MPR's Laura McCallum:

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar said on MPR's Midday program that if Pawlenty proposed a dollar a pack increase, Democrats would support it.

"One dollar per pack of cigarettes for two years raises $560 million. That would take us a long way for these budget discussions," he said.

Johnson said Minnesota's current cigarette tax of 48 cents a pack is ranked 38th among the states. He says raising the amount would reduce smoking.

Gov. Pawlenty has said he may soon pull his health impact fee off the table if the two sides are no closer.

Of course GOP activists said over the weekend they were upset with Pawlenty for proposing any tax increase, and they showed their displeasure by kicking party chair Ron Eibensteiner out of his job. What would they think if the governor upped the increase from 75 cents to $1?

In any case Johnson is gone for the next couple of days on military duty, so the clock keeps ticking.

One political item to note. Former state transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg announces today he's running for the 6th District congressional seat as a Democrat. A number of Republicans are already in the race. Former Ventura spokesman John Wodele is working on Tinklenberg's campaign. He's also working on Senate candidate Kelly Doran's behalf.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:38 AM